Police forcefully detain a protester during demonstrations against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rector appointment to Boğaziçi University, April 1 2021, Kadıköy, İstanbul, Turkey. © 2021 Murat Baykara/Sipa via AP Images

A Turkish court today ordered the release of two student protesters detained since February 4. Şilan Delipalta and Anıl Akyüz were arrested for joining an unauthorized protest against President Erdogan’s controversial appointment of an unelected rector to Turkey’s Boğaziçi University in January. Their detention was just one episode in a broad crackdown on student protesters in Turkey this year.    

Police have responded to peaceful demonstrations with excessive force detaining around 700 protesters since January – the majority of whom have been released shortly afterwards. At least five students were reportedly detained for carrying LGBT flags on March 25. The latest images of violent arrests of student protesters, 35 of whom were detained for a few hours on April 1, showed police grabbing some students by the throat and throwing them to the ground. These shocking images show growing government intolerance for students demonstrating against what they see as the Erdogan government’s bid to control higher education through the appointment of rectors.

At least 12 students have spent periods in pretrial detention and dozens currently face prosecution on charges such as “resisting police orders,” “violating the law on demonstrations,” and “inciting public hatred” for merely exercising their right to peaceful assembly. Authorities have imposed restrictive measures on dozens of other students including house arrest, travel bans, and judicial controls requiring they sign in at the nearest police station on a regular basis. Boğaziçi University has also placed dozens of students under disciplinary investigation, accusing them of  “insulting campus security personnel” and “organizing unauthorized protests on campus,” which could result in temporary or permanent expulsion from the university.

Turkey’s authorities should urgently drop their policy of crushing peaceful student protests, respect the rights of assembly and expression, and drop all arbitrary charges and sanctions against students for their involvement in them.

Boğaziçi University too should drop the ongoing disciplinary investigations against students and not misuse its authority to silence dissent on campus.